Tobago Woodpecker


Tobago Pigeon Point, Mot Mot and Tobagonian

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Nature, Birds and Wildlife of Tobago

Tobago has more species of birds (210) than any other we have visited. There are 17 species of mammals, 23  species  of butterfly,  five species of marine turtles,  24 species of snake,  16 species of lizard  and 14 species of frog. Being a small Island, nowhere is very difficult  to reach.
You can chose from mountains, forests, gleaming sandy beaches and coral reefs


This  is the Mot Mot, named - as far as I can understand, after the  raucous sound it makes.
Noise  apart,  it is a beautiful bird and  is fairly  common in Tobago. This specimen  was filmed at the bird  sanctuary,  where  we found cages with food had been spread around attracting hundreds of Bananaquits.
We  also  saw  more than twenty cocricos,  large  brown  pheasant type  birds which are the national bird of Tobago.

More bird-watching information
Birds of Trinidad & Tobago
Bird watching hot spots
More information
Cuffie River Eco lodge

Tobago's crowning glory is its bird-life.  The noisy Cocricos  (grey looking large pheasant type birds)  wake you at dawn,  as do  Amazon green parrots  that call to  each other from the treetops.  At dusk,  Mot Mots emerge from the forest and Jacamars leave their hillside burrows. Hummingbirds  are everywhere,  little jewels  hovering  above  the hibiscus,  and there  is at least  one rare species, the white-tailed sabre-wing, which is pictures below. Other forest birds include the collared trogon and the  blue-backed manikin;  nightjars and striped owls  emerge after dark.  We visited  the  wetlands to film heron and  wildfowl species.  Several areas in Tobago have  been designated  as protected reserves or sanctuaries. The rainforest of the Main Ridge is the oldest forest reserve in the western hemisphere.

Little Tobago

lies north east of  Tobago  and due east of the village of Speyside.    Located approximately 2.8 km from the mainland it is separated by a passage which is about 4 km long.   A strong current runs almost constantly through this passage (see below)
The Island is only 100 hectares in area and  covered with  vegetation.
The  highest  peak  is  one hundred and forty five  metres above  sea level,   and the valleys  between the hills afford excellent cover for the birds who hover in large numbers as they seek mates.



This  is  an  important  nesting  ground for quite a number of seabird species:  Audubon's  shearwater,  the  red-footed booby,  the sooty tern,  the red-billed tropic-bird  (a wonderful sight as they dive off the cliffs,  their  long  tails  streaming  behind them),  and more than 30 other species. Little Tobago is one of the prime seabird sanctuaries in the Caribbean.  St Giles' Islands, lying off the northernmost tip of Tobago, is  another, but  access to  these  rugged little outcrops  is difficult and, depending on sea conditions, dangerous.

The  Red Billed Tropic Birds nest in large  colonies  along the cliffs on Little Tobago. Perched on top of  a  cliff  we  were  able  to  film these  delightful  creatures riding the air currents just feet away.
If  you  are  lucky enough to time your  arrival  with  the start of the breeding  season,   you  will   be able  the females sitting on  their nests,  seemingly unafraid of our closeness.



We  made  the  voyage  in a boat called  "Fear Not", an appropriate name as  the  crossing was one of the worst I had ever encountered (the  worst  was  a  trip  in  a  sixteen  foot  speed boat  from Petite Martinique  to the neighbouring Grenadines with Carol,  where I was convinced  we  were going to perish, as the horizon repeatedly kept disappearing as we sank into large troughs-see Malcolm's Grenada In both cases,  however,  the  crew  were  obviously not in the same camp  as me,  being  natural  Island sailors,  and  in both cases the end result was so worth while. If you do not fancy the boat ride,  you  can  watch  the birds  through binoculars from the excellent vantage point of  Flagstaff Hill.

Tobago is also blessed with an abundance of plant,  insect and reptile life.  If you're interested in discovering  the Island's  amazing ecology,  contact  one of the  tour operators who organise guided  tours  into  the rainforest.  Most hotels will assist in setting these up,  or make your own route and explore on your own.  This small offshore island  is one of the  most important  sea-bird  sanctuaries in the Caribbean,  and serves as a haven for a number of species including the  Red billed tropic birds,  Mot-mot, Hummingbirds,  Feral Fowls,  Gulls, Yellow Tails, Bare-eye Thrush,  Wrens Pigeons Boobies and Sooties. Also found in large populations are Termites,  spiders,  scorpions,  centipedes,  earthworms,  bats, snails, hermit crabs, snakes, bachac, and lizards.

The Bloody Bay Rainforest: The best-signed and most easily identified trail is Gilpin Trace.
It is accessed off of the Roxborough /  Bloody Bay Road; the entrance is clearly indicated by a sign on the main road.  The trail starts in the mountains and leads downhill past a small waterfall to Bloody Bay.
It  is  quite a long hike if you  have to walk all the way back up,  so a good idea  would  be to arrange to be picked up in Bloody Bay village. Or, of course, return before reaching the bottom!

Rain Forest History: The  Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It was proclaimed a  Forest Reserve  in perpetuity by an  Act of Parliament of  April 8th, 1776, shortly after the island  fell under  British rule.   Most of this forest  remains  natural  as it is  relatively  inaccessible  to exploitation,  mostly because of its steep and dissected terrain. In addition, the unstable geology curtailed other land use activities and so we continue to have a permanent natural vegetative cover.     Hurricanes in 1790, 1847, 1963 and 1974 damaged much of the forested area resulting in a relatively young, present day forest.


We booked a rain forest tour with Harrison MacDonald, who has an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of Tobago and takes great delight in sharing his survival skills and knowledge of the area.


We combined the rainforest with a tour around some of the beaches. The grey bird is locally given the name Pee Whittler, and the small bird with the red cap is a Manikin ( Let me know if you know different)


I was watching the TV the other day and what should be featured but our tour.    Harris was looking his usual  immaculate self,  and the presenter  was having a personal tour rather than sharing as we had to, but  I was pleased to see  that the camera crew  had just as  much difficulty  filming the White tail Sabre Wing Hummingbird as I did. (what you see enlarged in the first picture is a blow up of the bird  stretching it's wings and fanning out it's tail looking away from the camera. It looks better on the video)

Location: The main ridge runs from the north east tip south westwards for about two thirds of the length of Tobago  and forms  the backbone along the island.  Its forested mountains rise very steeply from the north coast to a maximum height of about  580 metres  and the gentler  southern slopes are deeply indented by valleys which  run down to a narrow but fertile coastal plain.  Though the northern slopes of the Main Ridge are made of some metamorphic rocks the mountains are mostly composed of igneous materials.

Climate: The rainfall  regime is  divided  into  a  dry season and a wet season,  the former from January to May and the latter from June to December. There is a slight diminution of rainfall towards October. Precipitation is not annually constant. Rainfall is heaviest on the summits and the Northern slope where in places, it exceeds 360 cm annually. It decreases towards the South, which is a rain shadow area.


Importance: The main  function of the  Main  Ridge  Reserve  is a protective one.   It protects the soil and landscape from erosion by wind and rain; and river valleys and other agricultural areas from floods.
It protects the wildlife offering them food,  water and shelter and serves as a most effective wind-breaker by protecting the leeward side of Tobago from the effects of prevailing North East trade winds. The forest trees also  provide support for orchids and other epiphytes,  perches and nesting sites for birds and flowers from which honey  bees obtain nectar.  The main ridge forest reserve  also serves  as a watershed to a regulate stream  flow  and  water quality,  and ultimately the survival of the fine reefs and beaches found around the island.

Vegetation: The  forests  on the Main  Ridge  are  all rain forests. That  is,  they  are  tall evergreen trees  crowded  under  a climatic regime  where  rainfall  is seldom scarce  but it is  well  distributed throughout the year.
It hosts  a diversity of flora with a plethora  of    colourful   flowering plants,  many typical shrubs and ground vegetation consisting to a large  degree  of  ferns and many species of herbaceous plants.
Some  of the more common  flora  found  here  includes:  Palm, Trumpet tree,  Balisier, Sardines,  Parrot Apple, Maruba,  Wild Cocoa,  Devilwood,  Blue Copper,  Bowldish, Galba, Wild Manjack,Euterpe Spp,


Cecropia Peltata, Heliconia spp,  Miconia spp.,  Clusea rosea,  Simaruba amara,  Marila grandiflora,   Eschweilera decolorans, Guettards scabra, Ficus tobagenisis, Calopjyllum lucidum, Cordia spp.


The Main Ridge gives visitors some  of their most endearing memories.  It is a cool,  relaxing and pleasant environment to be in, and offers many recreational opportunities for hiking, picnicking, bird-watching, sight-seeing, photography,  art and nature  study.  Every  trip to the forest can be educational,  inspirational and rewarding.  The Tobago Forest Reserve is  maintained and  run by the  Forestry  Section of the  Division of Agricultural, Forestry and Marine Affairs, of the Tobago House of Assembly.
The Hike:  This  adventure  will  take  you  along the  Caribbean coast of Tobago with spectacular views of Castara,  Englishman's  bay and  Parlatuvier not to mention  Bloody  Bay  where a fierce war  between the French and the British resulted in much bloodshed that the water literally turned to blood, hence the name Bloody Bay.


Grafton Caledonia Wildlife Sanctuary:   This  amazing  local bird sanctuary  is located near Black Rock village and was once a cocoa estate.   After the  hurricane in 1963,  the  owner took to feeding the wild birds whose forest habitat was badly damaged.  When she died, the  estate was  passed onto  her  remaining  family on the condition that it would remain a wildlife sanctuary.
The house has been converted to a nature centre. The Motmots have been  conditioned  over  the years and usually come out around 4pm for  their  old  feeding time.  Their fear of humans has diminished and hand feeding is possible.


Feeding time at the Sanctuary. Bananaquits are nectar feeders, while the big grey birds are Cocricos, Tobago's national bird looking like large pheasants. A bare eyed thrush picks up crumbs on a ledge


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